On February 9, 2021, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre ("HKIAC") released its annual case statistics for 2020. This highly anticipated report provides insight into how arbitration in Hong Kong has fared in the face of the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 over the past year. 

Several of HKIAC's latest statistics are record breaking: HKIAC's arbitration caseload totaled 318 new cases in 2020, up from 308 in 2019 and the highest number in a decade. Of these, 203 cases in 2020 were arbitrations administered by HKIAC, up from 173 in 2019 and the highest number on record. The total amount in dispute in 2020 was HKD 68.8 billion (approximately USD 8.8 billion), the highest amount since HKIAC began to publish this information in 2011.

Parties appearing before HKIAC in 2020 were once again international and diverse. Parties from the British Virgin Islands, United States, Cayman Islands, and the United Kingdom remain among the most significant contributors to HKIAC's caseload. For the first time on record, the United Arab Emirates has broken into the top 10 in the past year. From the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and South Korea remain in the top 10. Malaysia also joined the top 10 for the second time on record. 

HKIAC's dynamic response to the pandemic no doubt facilitated its record year. HKIAC acted early in 2020 to implement measures to prioritize health and safety and to ensure service continuity during COVID-19, including keeping case management teams operational remotely, offering myriad virtual hearing services, and taking precautionary measures for guests and staff. As hearings increasingly went virtual during the spring, HKIAC continued to offer comprehensive and flexible virtual hearing services and issued innovative guidelines for conducting virtual hearings. Parties have reported great success with HKIAC virtual hearings, and the statistics bear this out. In 2020, 80 out of a total of 117 HKIAC hearings were fully or partially virtual hearings.

HKIAC's statistics also track applications under the Hong Kong-Mainland China arrangement on interim measures ("Arrangement"). As we reported in  our previous article, the Arrangement, which took effect from October 1, 2019, is an innovative recent development that empowers Chinese courts to grant interim measures in aid of Hong Kong‑seated arbitrations administered by qualified institutions. Hong Kong is the only seat outside Mainland China offering interim measures in Mainland China under the Arrangement, which gives Hong Kong a unique advantage over other arbitral seats. HKIAC's statistics confirm that parties continue to utilize the Arrangement. In 2020, HKIAC processed 22 applications made to 14 different Mainland Chinese courts under the Arrangement, compared to 13 applications made to 10 different Mainland Chinese courts in 2019. Applicants in 2020 included parties from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Cayman Islands, Singapore, Samoa, and the British Virgin Islands. In total, Chinese courts issued orders to preserve RMB 4.4 billion (approximately USD 683.3 million) worth of assets in 2020, compared to RMB 1.7 billion (approximately USD 244 million) in 2019. 

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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